Groningen: a sustainable city

22 september 2020

Door: Jona Hax

When I first set foot in Groningen I was surprised for good when I noticed how clean the city streets were. Coming from a country that has struggled to promote the importance of maintaining public spaces clean and organized, I was so happy to be living in a place that seemed to be the equivalent of a sustainable city.

Before my arrival, I had not heard about the gas resources and the agriculture sector located around Groningen, so I was expecting something similar to Amsterdam. At the time I thought: because it’s a student city it must be crowded, noisy, and probably a bit of a messy place. Turns out I was mistaken, BIG TIME.

One of the first things I was happy to find out was that both universities here, RuG and Hanze, were highly prioritizing the importance of sustainable living. (They are working on quite some interesting innovative projects). It was easy to see how institutions like universities can change ideas into real-life actions and affect people’s mindsets for the better. The more I read about sustainability, the more I learn and educate myself on the green lifestyle and the multiple ways that I could contribute to maintaining the city clean and sustainable.*Fun fact: Due to the rich amount of literature based on the topic of sustainability, I became super passionate to learn more about it, hence my wish to continue my Master degree and the rest of my career on the path of sustainability governance. As you see, this is a topic I truly want to promote and that is why I would love you all to get involved and start changing your habits into sustainable ones little by little.

If I would rank Groningen from one (1) to ten (10) for its sustainability I would say it’s an eight (8). I am not giving a ten because I think there is still some more work that needs to be done, especially with the agricultural activities and street reconstructions. The air in the city is of good quality, it feels fresh and clean. Nonetheless, there are days when you step out and smell the very nasty aroma coming from animal feces/ droppings. Considering that Groningen is surrounded by other smaller provinces, I would assume the air sometimes brings in the city the strong smell of animal farms. Perhaps a little more work can be done to prevent that and to maintain the city air clean. Compared to metropolitan cities, Groningen is way cleaner, but it can still improve in a few directions.  As for street reconstruction activities, well where to start. If there would be only one annoying thing I don’t like here is exactly that. I honestly am not able to comprehend what goes on with the streets. I heard it is something with the cables placed underground, but I do know of the noise, the dust, and the bike traffic that is created by it. Now as citizens, students, or expats, we can’t do much and complaining is not going to change reality, however, we can find solutions for ourselves. One strategy I came up with is hearing protection, earbuds, to cancel out the noise, and second, keeping your windows closed. Unless you want to swipe a thick layer of dust every two hours, I would recommend keeping windows in your room open only during the evening, when the construction work has stopped (or in the early morning).

How can you contribute to sustainability

You have probably heard many tips and tricks on how to be more sustainable. Find below a summary list concerning habits that we develop almost daily:

Recycle trash, paper, glass, and plastic

Even though this is self-explanatory and I hope that by now you all know how to recycle and why it’s important to do so, please maintain those habits as much as possible. When you separate the paper from the glass or plastic, this translates into a more efficient process and it ensures that recyclable materials are reused when making new products. In other words, these small habitual changes can lead to significant environmental improvement.

Be conscious while doing groceries.

Most of the expats I have met always pay careful attention to their finances, for they don’t want to spend too much money. Student life isn’t cheap, contrary to popular belief, and it can transform into a catastrophe if you don’t calculate your finances properly. One way to save money is to avoid ordering food and doing your groceries instead. Now here’s what we usually tend to forget: Being conscious about the amount of plastic or paper wraps we use. Next time you place your fruits in the plastic bag, take a moment, and reflect: do you need that extra bag. Why not bring your own tote/shopping bag instead. If we all start minimizing the amount of plastic bags and wrapping papers we use, I believe that we can make a large impact.

Re-purpose your old clothes

When the weather changes, you have to adapt to it, and in The Netherlands, this is a very common phenomenon. It goes from sunny and dry to humid and windy in an instant. I had a rough time adjusting my wardrobe accordingly, because yes, guess what, I kept taking summer clothes when temperatures got high and then autumn outfits and so on. While doing this process, I also had the chance to see which clothes I didn’t use or never wore. (I felt so guilty when I found out clothes that I hadn’t ever worn once, and I tried to reduce impulsive shopping ever since). For us shopping lovers it’s hard, okay, so I feel you in case you’re thinking Damn, but I can’t help it, I need to have those sneakers, I need that bag, etc, etc. I am here to help you, so bear with me. Here are a few steps you can follow to freshen up, re-purpose or recycle your clothes:

Bring your old pieces to a collecting point/container

You would be surprised but there are actual clothing stores in the city, which will award you for bringing your old pieces to them. I found out quite late, but I think it’s an amazing initiative to educate customers to be more conscious of what they are consuming and most importantly, how. So give it a try and get some discount rewards in exchange. A win-win scenario.

Sell online

When you want to get rid of something, you want that thing out of your sight, am I right? What if you could get some money in return? The number one go-to platform in the Netherlands is Marktplaats. You will find every kind of product you can think of. The platform is pretty self-explanatory and easy to use, however, there’s one downside, it’s in Dutch. If you open it on a desktop computer, however, you can navigate it with ease as long as you have a translation function.

Facebook is another popular place that a lot of expats seem to use. You can get in touch with other students and sell products to each other. I am not a big fan of the platform but if you are a regular user, give it a try. Be aware of the scammers though, and try to accept online payment only, make a Tikkie, or a request from your bank account. You’ll be surprised how much fake money goes around, so better safe than sorry.

ChicFashic One other platform that I would highly recommend is Chicfashic. This is a brand new, local platform that aims to promote and educate customers on the importance of sustainable fashion. It’s an incredible organization that combines human rights and ethical fashion with innovation. Chichfachic is a second-hand market place and a fashion community that allows you to do something good and fun with your clothes and make some money in the process! Specifically, you can sell or rent your beloved clothes and accessories while also expressing your style and sharing your advice, with others, on possible outfits. This way, everyone can be stylish while helping the environment at the same time!

Their website is currently under construction but make sure to check their Facebook page or follow them on Linkedin for the latest updates (https://www.linkedin.com/company/chicfashic/about/ ).

Thrift Stores and vintage clothes market

You have probably heard this phrase multiple times, but try to reduce the number of clothes that you buy annually and consider the option of buying from thrift stores or vintage sale markets instead. By doing this, not only will we contribute to less pollution, but we also have the chance to find unique pieces. I am talking about good leather and Denim material for a very affordable price. Wouldn’t you want to hit two targets with one purchase? Think about it, sustainable and trendy.

Avoid express shipping

I know it’s super hard not to choose express shipping, it took me a while as well, but if you have the option to wait for a few more days for your goods to arrive, please do so. Transport is the fastest-growing source of fossil-fuel CO2 emissions which makes it one of the largest contributors to climate change. According to a research experiment in 2004, across 25 EU countries, transport accounted for approximately 35% of total energy consumption, resulting in a 20% net increase of greenhouse-gas emissions over the past decade, due to a rise in transport volumes (WHO Europe, 2020). You can imagine these numbers are not decreasing significantly by the year, especially nowadays when overconsumption is almost becoming a kind of “influencer” trend. As tempting as it is for your beloved products to arrive the next day(s), take a moment and think: Is it that urgent for you to have them within one or two days? Is it really worth paying extra and contributing directly to a more polluted environment? I don’t want you to feel guilty or ashamed if you have done this before, because I know a few times that I have done it as well. However, I can tell you one thing, if you have the opportunity to make a difference, to simply consider what the carbon footprint of that purchase will be, to go against the trend of having more and more, what I call “consumerism on steroids” just do it. Take the first step and be more sustainable with the small decisions that you make. They can all become life changing decisions, not just for you, but for all of us, and the future of this planet.

I hope you all took some notes and are now a bit more motivated to embrace a greener lifestyle and a sustainable mindset (I hope you don’t do it just for the name or the looks. One Instagram post is not enough folks!). Pollution and climate change are phenomenons that are affecting all of us, and I believe it is our responsibility to tackle this global issue. The best place to start is our individual choices, so start from there.

My dearest international folks, let’s keep the cities we live in as clean as our houses. A cleaner city after all translates into a healthier living space for all of us.

Till next time,

Sincerely,

Jona Hax